Airline subsidy give-away to private enterprise expected to fly by on consent
Transportation will be the theme of next Tuesday’s Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, as local electeds are ready to drop 250 big ones on an as-yet-unnamed corporate airline to establish new flight service to the Arcata-Eureka Airport in McKinleyville.
Yet unlike the revenue guarantee scheme cooked up with American Airlines which fell through last spring, this flight would not have LAX or any other Southern California airport as its final destination.
This is due to the strings attached to a federal grant of $750,000, which can only be spent on a revenue guarantee for flights to an eastbound destination — much like the ill-fated Delta flights to Salt Lake City from a few years back.
The $250,000 local matching grant will be vacuumed out of the Community Investment Fund, one of the bags of cash administered by the Headwaters Fund Board. Of the original $5 million in the CIF, just over $2.5 million remains. The Redwood Region Economic Development Commission — housed just across the hall from the Headwaters Fund in the so-called Prosperity Center — would be the middleman handling the grant funds for the county and the feds.
“Part of RREDC’s mission is to bridge between local government and the private sector,” RREDC executive Director Don Ehnebuske stated in a county-authored release. “Since dependable and affordable air service is essential to the economy of Humboldt County, we’ll be working closely with the County to find the best fit air service for Humboldt once we secure the last remaining community funding required.”
Like the Headwaters Fund, RREDC has had its own share of controversy, with a previous executive director unmasked as a notorious conman. Incredibly, the airline subsidy is on the consent calendar; typically it would be passed in a typical 5-0 vote by Supervisors without any discussion, unless it were pulled for separate deliberation.
A special presenter will also be crossing the Fifth Street chasm between Eureka City Hall and the County Courthouse to pitch the East-West Railroad Feasibility Study to the Supes; the decade-plus City Manager of Eureka, Dave Tyson, will be asking Humboldt to join the counties of Trinity and Tehema in endorsing the use of as-yet invisible private or grant funding to study whether a non-existent railroad could be built.
Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace has previously criticized the idea of a study, suggesting that the question wasn’t whether a railroad could physically be constructed, but what combination of public and private users would actually justify the building and maintenance of such an expensive facility.
“This study is NOT (emphasis in the original) proposed as a marketing study thus it will not look into who would use the rail; what commodities might be shipped on it; and where would they go,” stated an unsigned document attached to the Board’s presentations report; the attachment consisted of 23 rhetorical questions and snippy answers such as this one.
“From experience over the past 10 years, it has been demonstrated many times that if there were a rail connection to Humboldt Bay, it would be used,” the unsigned document continued. “This is based upon many examples of business interests that have been lost due to a lack of rail.”
A notable example of the defensive, almost paranoid tone of the unsigned rhetorical Q&A list: 18. “I’ve been told that Rob Arkley is paying for the City of Eureka’s expenses to pursue support for this project. Is that true?”
“Untrue,” was the one word reply.
Next week’s Board of Supervisors meeting starts at the usual time of 9 a.m. Their afternoon session at 1:30 p.m. will tackle the latest iteration of the Housing Element of the County General Plan.